[Mr Andrew Turner in the Chair] — Rolling Stock (North of England)

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 12th March 2014.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr David Evennett.)

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 9:30 am, 12th March 2014

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner.

The TransPennine Express service is without doubt a vital artery for the north of England, and it is worth explaining exactly why that is. Its routes cover most of the north, from Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria to Newcastle, and of course at the hub of the network are Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds, connecting out to Liverpool and Cleethorpes. All in all, the area that its services cover has a population of more than 15 million people. That surprised even me, and I am an occasional user of the service and someone who has always lived in the north of England. To put that in perspective, TransPennine Express serves nearly as many people as live in the whole of the south-east of England, including London. That point is at the heart of today’s debate, which is about whether the rail network in this country provides equally for people in the north of England and people in the south-east and London.

Not surprisingly, the services provided by TransPennine Express are already busy. Indeed, the operator won the title of Passenger Train Operator of the Year in 2010, with record growth in passenger numbers from 13 million when the company started in 2004 to 23 million in 2010. That is an impressive record. However, it now seems that because of the shambolic nature of this Government’s handling of rail franchising, TransPennine Express is at the receiving end of a catastrophic series of decisions, initially triggered by the collapse of the west coast franchising process nearly two years ago.

Of course it is the north that will suffer the consequences yet again, because the end of the line of this terrible series of decisions made by the Department for Transport and Ministers is the loss of nine of the TransPennine Express class 170 Turbostar train units, which will be transferred to Chiltern Railways. By the way, that figure represents a 13% loss in the capacity of TransPennine Express.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Labour, Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; I have congratulated her on several occasions now on securing essential debates, and this debate is no exception. Was she as astonished as me last Wednesday at Prime Minister’s questions at the reaction to the raising of this exact issue by my right hon. Friend Mr Straw? Also, will she confirm that passengers are up in arms, including Helen Egan, a constituent of the Deputy Prime Minister’s, who told me that every morning she has to stand from Dore station in Sheffield to Piccadilly in Manchester?

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I completely concur with my right hon. Friend’s remarks. Last Wednesday was an illustration of just how little significance is attached to the needs of train users in the north of England; there was an immature response from the Government Front Bench team to a serious question.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I myself used TransPennine Express only the other week and when I got to the station I found that one of the carriages on the train had been removed, and a significant number of people had to stand from Sheffield to Manchester. In fact, that is a regular experience for people using that line, the Hope Valley line, and it is just the same for people using the Leeds to Manchester line. This is a pressing issue.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; she has gone right to the heart of the issue. Does she agree that this situation is not only a consequence of the west coast main line fiasco but a long-term consequence of the Government’s not investing in enough rolling stock throughout the whole country?

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I completely agree with my hon. Friend; he, too, always gets to the heart of the debate quickly. I will refer to that point later in my speech.

In his remarks about last Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s questions, my right hon. Friend Mr Blunkett made an important point, because one of the consequences of what is happening is that at least the Prime Minister will benefit from a better service when visiting his constituency at weekends, even if the same is not true of my constituency and my right hon. Friend’s constituency.

It is also clear that the process that has led to the transfer of these trains has the fingerprints of Ministers all over it, with DFT Ministers clearly involved in the chain of events that has led us to where we are now. In fact, what we are seeing, as I have already said, is the end result of the botched failure of the west coast main line refranchising, which incidentally cost the tax payer £55 million, and Ministers cannot deny that they were at the heart of that process.

The other factor that has played a part in creating the situation that we are discussing today is the Government’s ideologically driven desire to privatise the east coast main line before the general election next year. To achieve that aim, the Government decided to negotiate costly franchise extensions with many incumbent operators, such as First TransPennine Express, being given a 10-month extension from April 2015 to February 2016. That is at the heart of the decision to transfer these carriages to Chiltern Railways.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and I apologise for not being able to stay for all of it. Does she agree that one of the difficulties that this situation creates for providers is planning their rolling stock needs for the future, and that that is particularly important when so many of the trains that serve my constituency will not even be Disability Discrimination Act-compliant by 2018?

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I will refer to the situation relating to the Pacer trains later. She is absolutely right that the leasing agreements for franchises such as Northern Rail and TransPennine Express end in 2015. TransPennine Express has been unable to secure leases for trains beyond then, because other operators can offer longer and more financially secure tenures to the rolling stock company, Porterbrook. That issue is at the heart of this debate.

Photo of David Mowat David Mowat Conservative, Warrington South

The hon. Lady is completely right in saying that the 10-month extension period is at the heart of the problem and the commercial issues that it creates for the leasers of trains. However, I do not quite follow in her logic flow how that is related to the east coast main line. Perhaps she could explain that.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

It is because the decision to prioritise the privatisation of the east coast main line has led to a delay in the refranchising process for TransPennine Express, which has put it on a short lease—a short-term life—and it cannot plan beyond 2015-16.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

As my hon. Friend knows, we in the all-party group on Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire try to keep these debates on an all-party basis, and we have been very tolerant. I am sorry that Jason McCartney shouted at her a little earlier. However, we are all in favour of the northern hub. Some of us think that High Speed 2 is a problem. Many of us would much rather get the northern hub sooner. However, there is a network across the Pennines that we must sustain and improve quickly.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Indeed, I agree with him on most of those points, particularly about the northern hub, which was initiated by the previous Government and brought forward to completion, in terms of agreeing all the terms and the funding for it. That was a genuinely cross-party effort, and there was a genuine consensus on it, to ensure that the northern hub goes ahead. However, the problem with the northern hub is that although it opens up the network, frees it up and creates more capacity, there remains a potential problem, to which my hon. Friend Graham Stringer referred earlier, of providing the rolling stock that is necessary to ensure that we can make good use of the increased capacity.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Labour, Gateshead

We need to highlight the point about the differentiation in investment in different parts of the country. At a presentation last week to the all-party group on rail in the north, Network Rail outlined its plans for investment, including in the northern hub. However, the only reference to the north-east of England were signs on the map saying, “York”, and, “To Scotland.” The north-east of England was not an afterthought—it was not even a thought.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

That illustrates perfectly that we have to defend it. It is one of the sad realities of parliamentary life that those of us in the north of England, including those in the north-east and the furthermost outreaches of the north-west and Cumbria, have to defend our corner at every twist and turn.

Jason McCartney wanted me to give way. I shall, but this is the last time, because I really must make progress.

Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley

I thank the hon. Lady, my neighbour, for giving way. I also praise my other neighbour, Mr Sheerman, who rightly said that we should not be harrumphing about partisan points here, because we have worked so well together in this Chamber.

I wonder whether the hon. Lady would like to congratulate the Government on the £550 million investment in the northern hub and the electrification of the TransPennine route. Let us all work together to get better trans-Pennine services and better services on Northern Rail as well, which I use in my constituency.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I said a few moments ago that I acknowledge the consensus on the northern hub and I am pleased to see it go ahead. On the basis of the hon. Gentleman’s comments, I assume that he will support the argument we are making today, to ensure that that rolling stock remains in the north of England and that we have sufficient rolling stock capacity to make good use of the northern hub, once it is completed.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I will not give way any more, because I have had 11 minutes and have some way to go and other hon. Members will want to speak. I am sorry.

In February, Porterbrook reached an agreement to transfer nine Class 170 trains from TransPennine to Chiltern Railways, as I said, where they will be used on new services between Oxford and London. I am informed that the DFT was kept completely in touch with these negotiations and therefore, I assume, so were Ministers. It is vital that the House be informed of who knew what and when. Indeed, I echo the questions asked by the esteemed Chair of the Transport Committee, my hon. Friend Mrs Ellman. Who decided to transfer the trains away from TransPennine? When did DFT officials first learn of the proposal? When were Ministers informed of the proposal? The trains concerned currently run on routes from Manchester to Cleethorpes, Hull and York, taking in Sheffield and a large part of south Yorkshire. They are modern trains built between 1998 and 2005.

The rail industry press is reporting that Northern Rail’s older Class 158s could be transferred on to TransPennine routes as replacement stock. If these stories are correct, the logical consequence will be a problem passed on ultimately to Northern Rail, which is already short of diesel-powered trains.

The other logical consequence of delayed franchising and the rush to privatise the east coast main line is that commercial imperatives encourage rolling stock companies, such as Porterbrook, to distribute their stock to train operating companies that can offer deals over a longer period. Hence Porterbrook signed a lease with Chiltern Railways in February, with the full agreement of the

Department for Transport. I have had that in writing. This was confirmed in correspondence between Chiltern Railways and the DFT.

It is accepted that First TransPennine Express tried to negotiate with Porterbrook to prevent the trains from being transferred and leased to Chiltern Railways, but it is also accepted by First TransPennine Express that it could not enter into a new lease, because of the short period left before its franchising agreement expires.

The Minister has questions to answer. First, with these matters in mind, can he, today, offer a cast-iron guarantee that no passenger service will be downgraded or withdrawn, even temporarily, as a result of transferring these Class 170 Turbostar trains to Chiltern Railways? Will the Minister also confirm or deny the press reports that the Department is considering transferring Northern Rail’s Class 158s to the TransPennine franchise to plug the gap? After last week’s Prime Minister’s questions, when the Prime Minister said that he “will look carefully” at this issue, will the Minister tell me what progress has been made on resolving it, given that commitment from No. 10? Why does not the Minister just put our minds at rest by using powers under section 54 of the Railways Act 1993, which enable him, apparently, to secure the continued presence of the rolling stock in question on TransPennine services?

TransPennine runs some of the most overcrowded services in the country, as my hon. Friends have said. The franchisee itself has warned that, from May 2014 to the end of the current franchise term, it will require all its existing fleets to be able to deliver the significant capacity increase that it has committed to provide, and the same number of vehicles will be required to sustain the same level of service into the new franchise from April 2015. Let us not forget the other part of the equation, Northern Rail, which serves, as the name suggests, much of the rail needs of the north of England and which is also threatened, as I have explained, as a direct consequence of any loss of TransPennine trains.

Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

My hon. Friend rightly concentrates on the effects of this transfer on services in the north of England, but I remind her that the TransPennine Express also serves Scotland, including Edinburgh. Although I understand that the units that serve Edinburgh directly will not be affected by the transfer, I am told by colleagues in the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers that there could be indirect knock-on effects from units that serve Edinburgh being used to serve other routes elsewhere in the network and that, therefore, we too will be affected by the changes that have been introduced.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Indeed. The turnout today draws out an important point in this debate, which is the far-reaching consequences of the weak decisions made by the Department for Transport and its Ministers over the past two or three years, leading to one short-term decision after another and, in turn, leading to consequences that reach far beyond the immediate TransPennine routes, which are, of course, Sheffield-Manchester and Sheffield-Leeds. The consequences reach right out into Scotland.

Photo of Gordon Birtwistle Gordon Birtwistle Liberal Democrat, Burnley

The hon. Lady will appreciate that Network Rail spent about £20 million on the Todmorden curve and another £20 million-odd reconstructing the Cliviger Holme tunnel. We will have a brand-new tunnel and a brand-new rail link from Burnley to Manchester, but we will not have any trains. [Interruption.] Is the suggestion that people walk the line to Manchester? When are we going to get some trains? I am advised that we are going to get them in December—they have should been coming in May—but even that is now in jeopardy. We are putting a lot of pressure on Northern Rail to deliver the trains, even in the state they are in, never mind getting new trains. If we can get the ones it has to run that link it would be good. Will the hon. Lady request that trains be provided?

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman has encapsulated perfectly the lack of strategic grip that seems to be present in the DFT. Building a curve and new link but not being able to use them illustrates perfectly the stupidity of the position that we are in.

It appears that Northern Rail will receive fewer additional units from the south than it was promised in 2009, when Lord Adonis, the then Secretary of State for Transport, announced a major programme of electrification in the north. Back then, it was proposed that six Class 319 electric trains would be refurbished and transferred from First Capital Connect to Northern Rail in 2013—last year—and that they would operate between Manchester and Liverpool. However, it was recently reported that only three units would now be delivered, behind schedule and un-refurbished. A senior Northern source has been quoted as saying:

“We’ve told DFT we’re less than 10 months away from the proposed start of the electric service, we’re beyond the critical path, they’re not going to get refurbished and we’re not going to be able to operate the full service in the time we’ve got available.”

On top of these important issues there is another important perspective to this debate: just how serious are the Government about devolving power to the regions? The Minister knows well, following encouragement from the Department for Transport, that northern transport authorities have formed the Rail North group, with a view to taking responsibility for Northern and TransPennine services from 2016, and that date cannot come quickly enough for me. The proposed core of this network would cover around 21% of all UK stations. However, Ministers now appear to be rowing back on these proposals.

In November, it was reported that the Government were reconsidering their position, and in January a poorly defined partnership agreement between the DFT and the Rail North group was announced, without much of the devolution that was first promised. It subsequently emerged that the Department may force the Northern Rail operator to raise car parking fees. That move is opposed by the West Yorkshire passenger transport executive and flies in the face of true devolution. Given that the Department decided to move trains from the north to the south and is retreating on its promise to devolve rail network responsibilities, is localism now a phrase without meaning as far as the Government are concerned?

We in the north believe that we need efficient, well-run railways with modern trains providing the capacity that a growing network needs. We need those trains so that our economy can compete with the south—we all know how big that challenge is—if we are to close the north-south gap. On the Northern franchise, however, the average age of the fleet is 23 years, which compares with a national average of 18 years. Many routes are still served by the Pacer railbuses, which make up about a quarter of the fleet. I will not name my source, but I was approached several years ago by someone who asked whether the Pacer trains might have a future in the new country of Kosovo, but the trains may still be required on those Northern Rail services if the Government do not get their finger out.

The Pacer trains cannot be made compliant with disability access regulations without extensive refurbishment, and the oldest units are 30 years old. Under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 the trains will either have to be made compliant or be withdrawn before 1 January 2020. Ministers have already said that that is

“generally a matter for train operators.”

The train operators are having their arms tied behind their back by decisions made in DFT that do not give franchisees the security they need to secure deals with the rolling stock companies. Because of the shortage of diesel trains in the UK—this is the other big issue—Pacer trains, which are unsuitable, may have to remain in service for longer than they should.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

No, I really must move on.

What assessment has the Minister made of the ongoing viability of the Pacer trains, which are heavily used on the Northern franchise? Passengers in south Yorkshire, on the Doncaster to Rotherham and Rotherham to Sheffield routes, hate those trains, which provide a terrible service and are like sitting on a trolley bus—they are awful. The trains give an awful ride, and they give passengers the impression that they are using a second-class, substandard service.

Has the Department considered applying for an exemption to disability access regulations for the Pacer trains that could see non-compliant vehicles in use beyond 2020? That is an important point. Northern Rail passengers need to know whether Ministers will allow those trains to be used beyond 2020. We need an answer.

I will now bring my comments to a close. It is becoming obvious where the Government’s priority lies when it comes to rail lines, and the priority is not with passengers in the north of England. As their ill-fated, illogical and shambolic franchising policy goes off the rails, it is the north of England that suffers. We are witnessing a situation in which the huge blunder that was west coast franchising has led to a comedy of errors, with the consequences landing squarely in the lap of the north of England and its railway services. The real issue, of course, is that the Government are just not getting to grips with the heart of the problem mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton, which is that there are not enough trains in the system to provide the expansion capacity that the UK so badly needs.

At least the Prime Minister will be happy, now that he knows that there will be additional, modern 170 trains running into his constituency, making it easier for him to cope with the arduous journey to London. Hopefully he remembers that that comes at a cost to rail users in the north and beyond, as they will be left with less capacity, more crowded trains and, undoubtedly, frustrating delays as a result, unless we hear confirmation from the Minister today that the Government will ensure that that terrible decision does not go ahead. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and his answers to my questions.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Conservative, Isle of Wight

I will set a time limit of four minutes in the expectation that it may have to be reduced.

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Conservative, Cleethorpes 9:55 am, 12th March 2014

I congratulate Angela Smith on securing this important debate, which provides an opportunity for us not only to complain about various aspects of the services that serve our constituencies but to acknowledge the massive investment that the Government have made in the railway network. My constituency is served by TransPennine Express’s Manchester airport station to Cleethorpes service, which is the most important link, as it provides connections at Doncaster and Sheffield to the rest of the network. My constituency is also served by East Midlands Trains, more of which in a moment. Northern Rail provides a Cinderella service between Cleethorpes and Barton-upon-Humber in the sense that it is completely disconnected from the rest of the Northern network.

TransPennine Express’s Manchester to Cleethorpes service uses a combination of Class 170 and Class 185 units. TransPennine Express’s clear intention, restated to me only last week, is to remove the 170 units from that service. Will the Minister clarify that? The 185s are far superior, and the 170s are only two-coach trains. The services at peak times are very overcrowded.

Photo of Andrew Bingham Andrew Bingham Conservative, High Peak

As my hon. Friend is aware, that route goes through my High Peak constituency. We are talking about the north today, but the route serves my constituency, which is technically in the east midlands. The route is widely used by my constituents to get to work in Sheffield and Manchester. I am sorry that they do not all go to Cleethorpes, but my constituents use the route, too.

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Conservative, Cleethorpes

I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. I recognise that people in his constituency would like to get to Cleethorpes, so anything we can do to improve that will be welcome.

When I spoke to TransPennine Express last week, it assured me that the 170s will be removed, that the 185s will continue and that extended four-coach trains will begin shortly. If the Minister is able to confirm that, or if he is able to get back to me, it would be much appreciated.

Understandably, much of the emphasis has been on the TransPennine Express and Northern Rail services, but East Midlands Trains also serves my constituency. This will be the moaning part of my contribution, because in the almost four years since I have been the Member for Cleethorpes I have made representations to TransPennine Express about the single-car unit that operates between Grimsby and Newark. When people board that train, it is announced that when the train reaches Market Rasen there will be standing room only. Passengers know that the 9.20 from Grimsby, which forms the 9.55 from Market Rasen, and the peak return journey from Lincoln at 17.23 will be overcrowded. The one-car unit is unsatisfactory. That point has been acknowledged by the company, and still, four years later, there has been no improvement. That is beyond reasonable. New units could have been built in a couple of years, let alone shuffling units around the network.

The decision by TransPennine Express has highlighted the possibility of further emphasising the north-south divide, which might be only a perception, but we all know that perception counts for a great deal in politics. Will the Minister confirm what responsibility his Department has for those decisions? Was the Department consulted? Does the Department have to agree, or is the matter entirely for the rail operators? If the Department has to agree, I sincerely hope that the decision was made by officials, rather than by Ministers. As I said earlier, the decision adds grist to the mill by emphasising the north-south divide. The Government have invested a lot of money in the network, including in the northern part of the network, and we do not want to lose the good will that that has created.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 10:00 am, 12th March 2014

I congratulate my hon. Friend Angela Smith on securing this debate. I want to make a few brief comments, particularly on the trans-Pennine service between Hull and Leeds and Manchester.

Members may know that Hull and East Yorkshire has a population of some 500,000 people, but we have one service an hour from Hull to Leeds and Manchester. The line is poor, so the maximum speed is 50 mph. We have problems with outdated signalling, so no trains can run after 10 pm and the rolling stock, as we have heard, comprises the two-coach 170 trains, which causes real problems with overcrowding at peak times of the day. As I understand it, we were originally supposed to have the Siemens Class 185 stock, but that has been used for other parts of the network. People living in Hull and East Yorkshire are saying, “If the Government are serious about securing the rebalancing of the economy and ensuring that the regions get the investment they need, why is our train service not very good and likely to get even worse with the plans afoot to move the rolling stock to other parts of the country?”

My hon. Friend has clearly set out that we have to have this debate because of the debacle in the Department for Transport on franchise procedures, but I want to raise the issue of the electrification of the trans-Pennine service. Some bright spark in the Department thought it was a great idea to electrify the line as far as Selby but not to go as far as the end of the line at Hull. That ridiculous situation, with that section left out of any electrification, has implications for the rolling stock that can be used. People and businesses in Hull were very annoyed about that, but they did not just sit and moan. They put together a bid of private sector money to allow that electrification to go ahead in the round of electrification that has already been announced. It only requires the Department to put in a small amount of money—I think it is £2 million—with the rest coming from the private sector. The bid has cross-party support and the business community is up for it. We had a meeting with the Secretary of State, and I hope that good sense will prevail and we will be included in the electrification arrangements up to 2019. Hull will be the UK city of culture in 2017, but how will people get to Hull with the ramshackle train service that is currently operating? There is one service an hour and no services after 10 pm to Leeds and Manchester.

When the Chief Secretary came to Hull last week, he seemed completely oblivious to the private sector bid. That shows a problem in the Government. Private sector money is on the table and ready to go, but it is being ignored by the Chief Secretary, who did not seem to know anything about it. I hope the Minister can reassure me that the Government take the electrification proposal seriously. I also hope that he can answer the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge on why we need the rolling stock problem sorted out as soon as possible to put people’s minds at rest.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport 10:04 am, 12th March 2014

It struck me, Mr Turner, that you represent probably the most southerly constituency in the House. It is just as well that you are not able to contribute.

I congratulate Angela Smith on securing this opportune debate and putting her points in a feisty way, although I think she could have been a little more consensual. It was not this Government, after all, who decided that the best way to spend £6 billion was on Crossrail, rather than on improving rolling stock in the north. I speak as a jaundiced member of the Crossrail Bill Committee, to which I was sentenced for two years.

Rolling stock is not just a trans-Pennine issue; it is a quality issue in many areas, because, frankly, the quality is dire. I have had a long-standing campaign against the Class 142s, which are essentially Leyland buses on wheels. They were originally produced by Mrs Thatcher, almost as an emergency motion to keep Leyland Motors going. Most of them still running are on the Northern Rail franchise, although not all—some are on Arriva in the Welsh valleys. Those trains are not the oldest stock in the northern area—the oldest are the refurbished Merseyrail trains—but they are certainly the most uncomfortable and the most outmoded and they are not disability-compliant. They are probably not safe in either a collision or a derailment, and they certainly deter business passengers.

Any sane franchise arrangement would seek to get rid of the Class 142s, and I have tried to help with that. I have investigated the safety issues and I have contacted fellow northern MPs, some of whom are present for this debate. I have surveyed passengers, and I have spoken to franchise holders, the Department for Transport— particularly on the safety issues—and the media. The BBC did a good exposé of how bad conditions are on the trains, which are virtually cattle trucks. The responses I get are various: I am told that the trains are cheap to run and that, although they are rickety, one man with a decent set of spanners can usually repair them, saving an expensive trip to the repair shop; I am told they have utility, because they can be coupled and decoupled on the smaller lines; and I am also told that someone has to have them and, more horrifyingly, that they might be refurbished at some point. That sends a chill of fear down the spine of anyone travelling in the north.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Labour, Middlesbrough

Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern? The last time I was on a Pacer 142, I was horrified to see that where a seat had become detached from its iron frame, it had been bolted back and new cloth had been put on, with the likelihood that it would last a lot longer.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat, Southport

With that example, one surely has to think about what would happen in an accident where a passenger was thrown around the carriage.

Despite the appalling treatment of the northern franchises, patronage, profitability and demand are up. To be fair, the Government have started to realise the potential. They have started to put capital into the north, and we should all praise them for the northern hub go-ahead and the electrification. They have also, I hope, started to realise that we get a raw deal in the north. Recently, my colleagues and I submitted a document called “Grim up North?” to the Chancellor, which, among other things, analyses transport expenditure.

We are not fighting a particular Government but a Whitehall mindset. Frankly, Sir Humphrey knows all about Chiltern Railways. His friends travel on those lines and he has used them. Time and again in the Department for Transport, we come up against obstacles, whoever happens to be the Minister. We come up against what is called the business case argument, which basically says that transport investment should follow demand and profit, and the Department will point out that those are greatest in the south. That is not a false view, but it has to be set against the other principle that transport strategy and investment can drive demand, profit and economic growth. Unless we do something to arrest the downward spiral, we will continue to have a good case made within the Department for investment in the south and a rather mealy-mouthed case made for investment in the north.

It is rather like being in a strange family, where there is a large, obese child—a sort of cuckoo in the nest, rather like London—and when the food is doled out or, in this case, when franchises and coaches are doled out, we look at our meagre portions and we complain. We are told and will be told by the Department that the demand and the profits are greatest in the south, and that is where the franchises want to go, but we simply cannot go on like that. We have to contest the Whitehall mindset. We are already seeing signs of that mindset clawing its way back. Although we have the northern hub and electrification, there is anxiety about franchise devolution, as the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge pointed out; there is a lack of thought about the consequences of electrification for those areas that are not electrified, as Diana Johnson pointed out; there is confusion about the franchises; and we have rolling stock issues in abundance. Generally speaking, we have to recognise that, while we can carry on moaning and appearing like whingeing northerners, there comes a point when we collectively need to move from being whingeing northerners to becoming rebellious northerners.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee 10:09 am, 12th March 2014

As the debate so far has shown, rail in the north has long-standing problems that affect constituencies across the whole region. The problems include the rolling stock: in the north, the average age is 24 years compared with London Overground, whose rolling stock is, on average, 2.8 years old, and with C2C—the London to Essex line—where the average is 12 years. Those figures tell quite a tale. As hon. Members have mentioned, another issue is the availability of appropriate rolling stock after the welcome electrification, on which there is still no clarity.

In the short time available I want to focus on the key issue raised by my hon. Friend Angela Smith, which is the totally unacceptable situation of First TransPennine Express, which serves people across the north with an already overcrowded service, being set to lose 13% of its fleet to Chiltern Railways. It is a consequence of the west coast main line debacle and the way that franchises were changed and decisions were made for directly negotiated extensions of existing franchises. It appears that the interests of the leasing company, Porterbrook, rests with moving the trains to Chiltern Railways, rather than leaving them for the 10-month extension that has been awarded to First TransPennine Express.

That issue has been raised at the Select Committee, which has already written to the Secretary of State to ask several important questions. I want to focus on two of them. First, did Ministers know what was happening? We understand that they did. If they did not, they should have known that something so important was going on. Secondly, what will Ministers do about the situation? It cannot be right that the interests of a leasing company are put above those of passengers. There are other, more general issues about how rolling stock and franchises are organised, but that is the nub of the problem. The interests of the leasing company appear to be in moving these much needed carriages from the north to the south, because it can get a better financial deal.

Photo of David Mowat David Mowat Conservative, Warrington South

I congratulate the hon. Lady on mentioning Porterbrook, because its role is crucial. I will be interested to hear from the Minister why Porterbrook has taken this decision. I understand that it was offered only a 10-month extension, but it is and has been customary for leasers to give trains to the next company that takes over the lease. Porterbrook was not at risk had it persevered with the 10-month extension and it really does seem an odd decision. Has the Transport Committee had any sight of the commercial terms of the earlier deal with First TransPennine Express?

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

The Transport Committee has not yet seen the deal; it is just asking questions at this stage. Everyone here today—or certainly everyone on the Committee—just wants to know what is going to be done. We have not yet received a response from the Minister to our questions, but one may be in the post at this very moment. What did Ministers know about the matter? If they did not know about it, why not? More importantly, what are they going to about it for the interests of the travelling public right across the north?

Photo of Andrew Bingham Andrew Bingham Conservative, High Peak 10:14 am, 12th March 2014

I congratulate Angela Smith on securing the debate, which has involved much talk of the north of England. My seat is in the east midlands, but the line that has been discussed today actually goes through my constituency. It is a vital line, and I have similar concerns that the number of carriages will be reduced. We have lots of employment in High Peak, but people also travel to Manchester or Sheffield. I support the northern hub and the extra capacity that the Hope Valley line will receive, which is vital because the line also carries a lot of freight.

The matter has been brought to my attention by two constituents—a Mr Benson and a Mr Walker—who live in different parts of my constituency, which is also served by Northern Rail. If the carriages are removed, they will have to be replaced with carriages from Northern Rail, which will have an impact on not only the line that is served by First TransPennine Express, but also on the Northern Rail line that serves the rest of my constituency. Of the 10 busiest stations in Derbyshire, five are in High Peak and are served by Northern Rail, and there will be implications.

The matter is cross-party, as it should be, and I want some reassurances from the Minister. We have until April 2015 before the changes kick in, so we have time to examine the issue and to put it right. We can discuss the carriages that are being lost—I have sat on trains and thought that they could be a little bit comfier—but the capacity of the trains that go in and out of my constituency is causing my constituents great concern.

Jonathan Reynolds is present today, and the Minister will remember from his previous role that we banged the drum about our bypass as another way of getting across the Pennines, which is what this is all about. We talk of building economic growth, but to do so we need to generate employment so that people can work. If they cannot get about, the whole project is stymied.

Photo of Jessica Lee Jessica Lee Conservative, Erewash

All today’s contributions have been about assisting people and about social and economic mobility. There is the new station fund, and I led the campaign for Ilkeston station, which will transform the town and enable people to get out and about and take opportunities. That should always be the focus of what we politicians are trying to achieve for constituents.

Photo of Andrew Bingham Andrew Bingham Conservative, High Peak

I agree with my hon. Friend and give her great credit for the work that she did down in Erewash on Ilkeston station. She is absolutely right that this debate is not just about a few carriages being tacked on the end of a train; it goes far beyond that. I am mindful that many other Members want to speak and that time is short, so I will limit my remarks. I have a letter here that will go to the Minister and to the Secretary of State, and I will be interested to know the responses. Like the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge, I have some concerns, as do my constituents.

Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills) 10:17 am, 12th March 2014

I congratulate my hon. Friend Angela Smith on securing the debate. I want to focus on Hartlepool. Hartlepool and Seaton Carew stations had almost 580,000 passengers last year. Hartlepool is the sixth busiest station in the north-east, which is probably a result of the direct service to and from London operated by Grand Central, but also of Northern Rail services, which operate southbound to Middlesbrough and northbound to Newcastle, calling at Seaham, Sunderland and Heworth, with some services continuing to the Metrocentre, Hexham and Carlisle.

As has been said, to facilitate greater economic development, it is important to attract more people on to the railways through reliability, value for money, the provision of routes where people want to go, at a time that suits them, and, crucially, rolling stock that is modern, clean, accessible and comfortable for passengers. One of the Department for Transport’s 12 policies is expanding and improving the rail network. Within that policy the Department states:

“Rail is vital to the UK’s economic prosperity. If rail services are inefficient and do not meet people’s needs for routing or frequency, business and jobs suffer.”

I do not think that anybody would disagree with that, but the condition and suitability of the rolling stock is also about meeting people’s needs. I ask the Minister: why is quality of the rolling stock not included in that policy?

If the age of rolling stock is seen as an indicator of comfort for passengers, Northern Rail, as we have heard, is lacking. It currently has the oldest fleet of rolling stock in the franchised railway, with an average age, as my hon. Friend Mrs Ellman said, of 24 years. The average age has increased steadily since quarter one of 2008-09, indicating that no investment in newer stock has been made.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Labour, Gateshead

The line that my hon. Friend is talking about, which serves Teesside, the east Durham coast and Sunderland and goes through to Newcastle and beyond, passes through my constituency. The sad fact is that, although Teesside and Tyneside are only 35 miles apart as the crow flies, a train from Newcastle to Middlesbrough is timetabled to take an hour and 35 minutes. It is a disgrace.

Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

My hon. Friend is right, and that is partly because of the age and condition of the rolling stock. Things are bad on that line, particularly for Hartlepool commuters, because, as we have heard, Northern Rail is still operating the old Class 142 Pacer trains, which were built as a stopgap in the 1980s. They are little more than cattle trucks and are totally unsuitable for a modern rail network.

A constituent who commutes to and from Newcastle for work every day wrote to me about Northern Rail services, which she described as “dilapidated”:

“I’m sure that you are aware that the condition of the train is also antiquated and they frequently break down due to age and disrepair... in winter they lack an operative heating system and are filthy...The service received by passengers on this line is worse than ever and something must be done in order to bring Northern Rail to account and operate within its rail passenger charter.”

I hope that the Minister will address those concerns directly.

I have several questions, but they boil down to this: when will my constituents receive modern, comfortable and appropriate rolling stock, with such things as customer information systems and suitable accessibility for disabled people, which seem commonplace elsewhere in the country, but are lacking in my area? Why are Hartlepool and the north-east so badly short-changed, given that fares have gone up remarkably?

Is the Minister planning to change the formula for spending on transport? Expenditure per head of population on transport infrastructure in London is £2,595; it is £5 per person in the north-east. I appreciate that the formula is based on population, but the Minister must accept that that gross imbalance is simply wrong. Will he consider levelling the track on transport spend for the north-east to help facilitate proper economic growth in my region? Secondly, will he use smarter procurement to stimulate more manufacturing of rolling stock in the UK, and particularly in the north-east? The Government’s handling of the Bombardier issue on Thameslink was little short of shambolic, although their handling of last month’s decision on Crossrail was better. Will the Minister endeavour to ensure that Hitachi, newly based in the north-east, can be as competitive as possible, enabling manufacturing to be retained and enhanced in the north-east, jobs to be created, and supply chains to have the long-term confidence to plan for the future?

My area is badly short-changed over the quality of train services and rolling stock, and I hope that the Minister will address that.

Photo of David Mowat David Mowat Conservative, Warrington South 10:22 am, 12th March 2014

I want to start by saying that the moving of 13% of TransPennine Express trains is an unacceptable outcome. However, we need to understand why it has happened. It is still not clear to me whether it is an intended or unintended consequence—the tail-end result of a number of actions.

I want to respond to the north-south divide issue, on which John Pugh made an excellent speech. There are things that the Government have done that were not happening before, in relation to the northern hub and the electrification of the north; but that only partially rebalances the vast difference in spending per head mentioned just now by Mr Wright. That is not something that happened under the present Government; it happened under the previous Government as well, and it is an endemic issue to do with the way the Department for Transport evaluates projects. That is what we need to think about in the next few years.

To return to the main issue, the 13% of TPE trains are being moved because a 10-month extension has been piled on. Porterbrook apparently takes the view that it can get more money by moving the trains to Chiltern Railways, away from TPE. The first question is whether the decision was predictable. I do not fully understand the reason for the 10-month extension, which is why I intervened earlier, to ask how that was related to the east coast main line. However, given the fact of the 10-month extension, perhaps Porterbrook is trying to protect its commercial interests by its actions. In that case, normally what happens, apparently, is that the owner of the trains leases them to the next winner of the franchise; so if TPE lost the franchise, the normal custom and practice would be for Porterbrook still to be protected, because the trains could remain in the north. I ask the Minister why that did not happen in this case, to what extent it was predictable by the Minister or officials, and whether it is only the officials who are accountable in that sense.

Is the contract that has now apparently been signed by Porterbrook and Chiltern Railways irrevocable? Can it be changed? If it cannot, another issue arises. I heard mention of powers under section 54 of the Railways Act 1993 earlier; would they allow the contract to be reopened and re-examined? As I said when I began, the outcome, whether intended or not, is unacceptable.

Porterbrook’s role needs a lot more examination. We shall not have time for that today, but I hope that the Select Committee will understand, when it investigates, what drove Porterbrook to make a decision that is not, on the face of it, rational, given the custom and practice that I mentioned—that whoever might win the future franchise, if there is a change, would in any event use the same trains. Finally, I want to ask whether the Department for Transport has sight of the full commercial terms of the Porterbrook and Chiltern Railways contract, vis-à-vis the Porterbrook TPE contract that is apparently being replaced.

Putting all that to one side, the outcome is unacceptable, and something needs to happen.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris Labour, Glasgow South 10:26 am, 12th March 2014

I hope that colleagues will forgive this cuckoo in the nest—a Scottish MP intruding on the debate. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Angela Smith for securing the debate. Continuing my animal analogy, I want to address the elephant in the sitting room. Hon. Members, who are rightly angry on behalf of their constituents at decisions about rolling stock and franchises, will be disappointed if they believe that chastising a Minister, of whatever party, for the decisions of civil servants at the Department for Transport can be the equivalent of a magic wand, and make everything right. The structure and nature of the industry simply will not allow train operating companies to make their own decisions about which rolling stock is most appropriate for their passengers.

I have never been an advocate of the wholesale nationalisation of the railway industry and I am not about to follow in the footsteps of the late lamented Bob Crow by doing a 180° turn on that policy. However, I draw the attention of the House to my early-day motion 954, which points out that under the present Government the railway industry is about to be nationalised. The largest part of the railway industry is Network Rail. From September, it will be recategorised as a central Government body. It will therefore come under the remit of central Government: Whitehall—civil servants.

It will no longer be a private company without shareholders, as it is today. May

I therefore congratulate the present Conservative Government on nationalising the British railway industry?

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Labour, Barrow and Furness

Like many of my hon. Friends I am very much in favour of genuinely free markets. However, is not the point the fact that the market is mangled? It is not delivering for the customers—businesses and passengers—who are investing a lot of money, and for whom a properly functioning railway in the north of England is vital, just as it is in the south.

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris Labour, Glasgow South

My hon. Friend is correct, but I want to issue a caveat, and point out, in defence of the Minister, the Government and the previous Government—

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris Labour, Glasgow South

I will not declare an interest. I am not being paid the salary any more; I do not need to declare an interest. However, it is a fact that since 1993, railway rolling stock has been among the newest rolling fleet of any in Europe. We have an outstanding safety record and there have been record numbers of passengers. Nevertheless, it is clear from this debate and many others in the past that the current model is not delivering for a significant number of passengers. Rolling stock is one problem, and far too often Ministers and civil servants make those decisions over the heads of the train operating companies at the behest of the rolling stock companies. That is unacceptable and clearly must be addressed if we are not to have debates similar to this in future. Another clear failure in the market—I would say it is the biggest one—is that our constituents are paying far too much for their rail fares.

The market simply does not deliver on crucial aspects. It does deliver in some areas, however, which is why I am cautious about simply saying that everything would be wonderful under nationalisation. I remember when the railways were nationalised and everything was not wonderful. We have to be cautious about taking an ideological point of view, but this is not an ideological debate; it is a practical debate.

How do we ensure that our constituents get the best possible service from the rail industry? Let us cast ideology to one side and look at what can be done practically. We may well have to follow the Network Rail example and look at train operating companies and say that the private experiment has not worked.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Labour, Gateshead

There is an interesting dilemma for Government, as they have conceded on state ownership. When it comes to rolling stock and train operating companies, they agree with German, Dutch and French state ownership, just not UK state ownership. Is that not a paradox?

Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris Labour, Glasgow South

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct that that is a paradox. I have some sympathy with the Minister, because I know that his civil servants are going over the heads of the train operating companies and deciding which rolling stock is most appropriate to which franchise. I am attending this debate because every decision taken on rolling stock has a domino effect on every other franchise. The TransPennine Express franchise serves my city of Glasgow. The west coast franchise, which was badly handled, also serves my constituency and the east coast franchise, which should not be privatised before the general election, also serves Scotland. We are all in this together, as it were. All passengers rely on decisions taken by the DFT. The Minister will no doubt say that it is a privatised industry and that such decisions are out of his hands, but they are not; they are very firmly in his hands. The question we should address is: is that the correct way to make those decisions?

We must make a decision. Either civil servants and Ministers should take responsibility as well as the blame—at the moment all they get is the blame—or they should give all those decisions to the private sector and make it a truly privatised industry. My gut instinct is that that model would not work for our constituents and it is our constituents, not political ideology, that must take precedence.

Photo of Gordon Birtwistle Gordon Birtwistle Liberal Democrat, Burnley 10:32 am, 12th March 2014

I congratulate Angela Smith on securing this debate—it is really good to have it. I refer again to the major investment we have had in Burnley, which I raised in my earlier intervention, at the Todmorden curve and the Holme tunnel at Cliviger. We have a brand-new, £7 million station, and £20 million was spent on fitting the Todmorden curve back in so that there is a direct link between Accrington and Burnley and Manchester, which will bring much financial growth to that part of Lancashire. The opportunity has also been taken to refurbish the tunnel at Cliviger. The total bill for that would be about £50 million. We are grateful for that work. It took a long time to persuade the Government to do it and this coalition Government have done it.

Our problem now is that the trains that should have turned up at the beginning of May—I was looking forward to riding on the first one to Manchester—will not arrive on time. They might arrive at Christmas, but it might not even be then. Will the Minister give us some indication of when the first train will travel on this brand-new track to Manchester?

My hon. Friend John Pugh raised the state of Northern Rail trains. My wife regularly travels from Burnley to Leeds. At present, she has to rely on the bus because the line is closed while the tunnel is relined. Only recently, on the way back from Leeds, the York to Blackpool train broke down in an attractive part of no man’s land. The whole train was packed—no one could move on it. The guard apologised for the state of the train, but the passengers had to wait an hour for the next train to come along and literally push that train through Burnley, Blackburn and Preston and on to Blackpool where it could be repaired. Is that the way to run a modern railway system? Is that what the people of this country pay for?

The train my wife uses to go to Leeds used to cost £6, but now it is nearer £16. The price has nearly trebled, yet the service quality has gone down and down. Is the Minister proud of how we now run the railways in this country? If he is happy with that, so be it, but he should tell us so that we know where we are. If not, will he tell us what he will do about it? I am not happy to see £50 million of taxpayers’ money spent on a brand-new station and a brand-new link to Manchester, which we have all asked for for years—the Prince of Wales supported the project at one time—and the £20 million-odd spent on the tunnel, which had to be done, when we do not have any trains to ride on. I urge the Minister not to send us the old buses that we used to have—some of those are so old that they still have the registration plates they had when they ran around Preston. Can we have something a little more modern? At this moment in time I will accept a continuation of the wrecks we have at present just to get that on that line to Manchester.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Conservative, Isle of Wight

We have four minutes left and four speakers. Tom Blenkinsop, you have one minute.

Photo of Tom Blenkinsop Tom Blenkinsop Opposition Whip (Commons) 10:36 am, 12th March 2014

Thank you, Mr Turner. Given the shortness of time, I will get to the nub of the issues facing my constituents. First, there is the rolling stock. My fear for people in Middlesbrough and the wider Teesside conurbation is that the mainline services that link York with Blackpool and Liverpool will be given priority over the peripheral lines going north. That links into the lack of electrification on the east coast line to the north of Northallerton. Those two issues together cause fear for people in Middlesbrough and the wider Teesside area.

The rolling stock leasing companies are an issue. The TransPennine service was created by the state under British Rail and that model has survived until today, which is testament to its ability to assess the market then and going forward. In November 1995, the ROSCOs were sold for a combined sum of about £1.7 billion and, in 1996, they generated a combined pre-tax profit of £1.8 billion. We have three ROSCOs; one of which, Angel Trains, made a 60% profit in the seven months—

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Labour, Middlesbrough 10:37 am, 12th March 2014

I would like to mention a couple of quick points. My hon. Friend Mr Harris referred to nationalisation. It has been pointed out that we have a nationalised system, with Nederlandse Spoorwegen and Deutsche Bahn operating franchises. The purpose of a railway system is not to provide people with an opportunity to extract value for their own benefit.

We, too, are plagued with the Pacer 142 trains, the performance of which is shocking. The travel time from Saltburn to Darlington is 53 minutes—Usain Bolt or a domestic cat could give those trains a run for their money. In fact, my wife’s grandma raced the trains years ago, and I think she could still do that now. The height of our ambition—

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change) 10:38 am, 12th March 2014

There is almost no time at all, but I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend Angela Smith on securing the debate. I have nine train stations in my constituency. Stalybridge, in particular, is a hugely important railway town, which features our world-famous buffet bar.

The crucial point is the huge growth in passenger numbers on services through places such as Stalybridge, Mossley and Hyde during the past decade. Passenger numbers have doubled, yet we do not seem to have a system that can meet that demand in any way, so when news comes out that we will lose TransPennine carriages to an as yet unopened railway in the south of England to provide services to Oxford, that causes extreme and palpable dismay. I thought that, in this Parliament, we were moving towards consensus on greater rail investment in the north of England. That is what I want to see and I would like the Minister to address that. The point about the age of rolling stock has been made well. Do we have a system that allows new rolling stock on to our railways? I do not think we do and I would appreciate the Minister commenting on that.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East 10:40 am, 12th March 2014

I want to talk about the train service between Bolton and Manchester. The trains are incredibly overcrowded, especially during peak times. People often have to give up on one or two trains before they can get on one, and when they do they are completely squashed, as I know, because I travel on those trains myself.

The trains are small and need to be refurbished. We need more trains because those running between Bolton and Manchester are incredibly dangerous and overcrowded. A lot of people miss their trains as a result, and I have had letters from constituents who have lost their jobs because they have not been able to get to work on time and their employer has had no sympathy for the fact that they have been spending an hour or so travelling on a local train service.

It is regrettable that—

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. I congratulate my hon. Friend Angela Smith on securing this debate. She is a long-standing campaigner for better rail services in her constituency. Alongside others here today, she lobbied to secure funding for the northern hub project. She gave a powerful speech, and it is entirely fitting that she should lead this important and timely debate. There is clearly an extremely high level of interest in this subject, reflecting the importance of rail services to constituents across the north and parts of the east midlands as well.

I would like to take this opportunity briefly to pay tribute to Bob Crow, who tragically died yesterday morning. No one could ever doubt Bob’s tenacity and effectiveness on behalf of the workers he represented. I met him a number of times in my capacity as shadow rail Minister. From talking to people who sat on the other side of the negotiating table from him I know just how deeply respect ran for him in the rail industry, from his opponents and supporters alike. He was a pragmatic fighter and a doughty defender of RMT members, and our national life will be poorer without him.

A year and a half after the collapse of the west coast mainline and Great Western competitions, we are witnessing another consequence of that debacle. The facts have been well covered by hon. Members. As a direct result of its 10-month franchise extension, TransPennine Express has found itself unable to negotiate new leases for its rolling stock. Its Class 170 trains, which make up 13% of its fleet, will be transferred to Oxfordshire, and we learn from the industry press that Class 158 trains may be taken from the Northern franchise to make up the shortfall.

As the Rail North group has said, the short-term direct awards appear to be causing potential and actual problems for the rail network. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is clearly not the solution that passengers need, so I have a number of questions for the Minister, which I hope he will answer when he sums up. First, for how long exactly has the Department been aware that TPE’s trains could be transferred to Chiltern? Did the Secretary of State consider exercising his section 54 powers in this case, and if he did, why did he decide against using them? Finally, will the Minister confirm that there is no protection against a similar fate for the remainder of TPE’s fleet? What is to stop the Class 185s, which are used on the majority of TPE’s services, being transferred to other operators?

I have to declare an interest in this debate as a constituency MP. Although, like Andrew Bingham, I represent a midlands seat, Nottingham station is served by Northern Rail—by the same Class 158s, in fact, that could be transferred to other franchises. Although I welcomed the decision to electrify the midland main line, as my hon. Friend Mr Betts has previously said, we still do not know what rolling stock will be used, including on the line to Sheffield.

We already have real uncertainty over rail projects. The Todmorden curve is a case in point. Restoring that 500-metre section of track will enable new, direct services from east Lancashire to Manchester. Funding for the infrastructure was secured following a cross-party campaign, which included my hon. Friend Graham Jones. The track itself will be completed by May, but, incredibly, no trains will run on it until December, despite previous assurances that sufficient trains could be found. As Josh Fenton-Glynn, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Calder Valley, has rightly said, that is

“an inexcusable piece of incompetence about which local people are justifiably angry.”

I pay tribute to the work he has done to bring the issue to national attention.

Northern Rail said in October that

“there are no spare trains on the market at the moment”

The case illustrates both a failure to plan, and the lack of available rolling stock for expanded services. In the meantime, the strong growth in demand for rail in the north, ably described many of my hon. Friends, has resulted in severe overcrowding on some routes.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am sorry, but I am not going to give way, as we have limited time.

We heard powerful examples of the difficulties commuters face from hon. Members from across the House, including the hon. Members for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and for Southport (John Pugh), my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) and for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) and, briefly but eloquently, my hon. Friends the Members for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) and for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi). As First TransPennine Express has said, even a relatively small reduction in the size of its fleet could have a profound impact on services. The company said:

“Our timetable from May 2014 through to the end of our current franchise term requires all of our existing fleets to be able to deliver the significant capacity increase that we have committed to provide. Similarly, the same total number of vehicles would be required to sustain the same level of service into the new ten-month franchise extension period from April 2015.”

If replacement rolling stock is transferred from Northern Rail, the same problem will be repeated. Passengers, transport authorities and operators now face years of uncertainty over rolling stock availability before electrification is completed. Drivers cannot be trained and new services cannot be planned. If still more trains are lost, those problems will only become more unmanageable.

I understand that Chiltern’s agreement to operate the Class 170s contains a sub-lease that would allow the trains to remain in use on the TransPennine routes until replacement rolling stock can be found. I also understand that the Department for Transport, First TransPennine Express and Chiltern Railways are parties to that lease. Will the Minister tell us whether the sub-lease can go ahead only with the full agreement of the Department and Chiltern Railways? It is important that we have an answer to that question and to the other questions that hon. Members have raised today.

When the Minister responds I hope that he is not tempted to downplay the issue by saying that this situation is simply part of the normal process of cascading rolling stock. If that is so, why is the industry press reporting that the loss of the Class 170s is

“likely to produce a serious reduction in capacity” on the TransPennine routes? As my hon. Friend Mrs Ellman, who chairs the Transport Committee, has said,

“this issue is causing considerable uncertainty over the future viability of TPE’s timetable.”

The Minister might say that this is simply a matter for the market to decide, and, of course, the split between infrastructure, train operators and rolling stock companies was established in the botched privatisation by the previous Conservative Government. However, if it is simply something for the industry to decide, why has the Department been involved in discussions between Chiltern Railways and the rolling stock leasing company at every stage in the process? He might try to insist that the situation is simply business as usual, but after today’s debate, that simply would not be credible. The problem is the direct consequence of the panicked direct awards programme introduced following the collapse of the west coast competition. In turn, that was caused by Ministers imposing their new franchise model on one of the most complex routes in Europe. At every stage, Ministers are directly accountable, and they will be accountable for any reduction of services that results from that chain of events.

The truth is that, for all the talk of cutting red tape, the coalition will leave a record of five years of disastrous decisions in Whitehall, a top-heavy failure to manage key projects, and a huge expansion in the Department’s involvement in the rail network. I accept that the Minister may be an unlikely occupant of a Marxist universe, but perhaps we should not be surprised by the coalition’s switch to old-fashioned command and control. After all, last year, the Business Secretary said that a “rail revolution” was taking place. With services threatened and rolling stock taken away, we now know what the rallying cry of that strange revolution—it unites MPs across party boundaries—will be: “Passengers of the north, unite! You have nothing to lose but your trains.”

Season ticket prices have risen by an average of 20% since the election. Passengers deserve better than this. The Government must face up to the scale of the problem, set out a clear plan for meeting the north’s rolling stock requirements and get the improvements in the region’s rail services back on track.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport 10:49 am, 12th March 2014

I thank Angela Smith for calling this debate on an important topic. Much has been made of what I may or may not say today, but I intend to cover directly some of the issues she has raised because the matter is important. Some people have suggested things I may say, but I will answer her questions.

There have been a huge number of contributions and I learned today that brevity is a virtue, and that Mr Harris is a voice of experience and sanity. I always enjoy following Lilian Greenwood, who leads for the Opposition. She leaves me in awe of the fact that she can operate in a parallel universe. Is the real failure the 900 miles of electrification that this Government have committed to, as opposed to the nine under her Government, or is it the 11% rise in fares that would have happened had her Government been in power today?

I had an opportunity yesterday, during a Westminster Hall debate, to pay tribute to Bob Crow and to send condolences on behalf of the Government to his friends and family. Whatever our political differences, he was a doughty defender of his members and of safety standards, and I am pleased to reiterate that today.

I understand the frustrations that have been expressed today, but there must be recognition, as there was from some hon. Members, about the contribution and huge investment going into the north of England. The north of England investment plan will see £1 billion invested to improve services, to increase capacity and to ease overcrowding over the next five years. That massive investment will see electrification of the north-west triangle between Manchester, Liverpool and Wigan. The TransPennine route between Manchester and York via Leeds will also be electrified. Capacity improvements are being delivered between Manchester and Sheffield via the Hope valley line and the Chat Moss line between Liverpool and Manchester. Construction of the Ordsall chord will enable trains to run between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria stations.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

I will not give way, because I have only eight minutes.

Line speed improvements will be made on routes including those between Manchester and Sheffield, Manchester and Preston, and Manchester and Bradford. Whatever anyone says, that is a huge investment in the area. It is estimated that the wider economic benefits to the region will be more than £4 billion and have the potential to create 20,000 jobs. The Government are investing in the north of England. However, all those projects have an impact on rolling stock decisions and we are taking a broader look across the country see why some of the problems—I accept that there are problems—have arisen. The significant steps that we are taking towards electrification throughout the country, including the north, undoubtedly means that the rolling stock market is preparing to invest heavily in electric units. There is less demand for diesel units, and there is a short-term mismatch.

Everyone agrees that electrification will help to transform the railways by introducing faster, greener and more pleasant vehicles. It will also set up the opportunity for cascades of newly run-in and refurbished stock to other parts of the country to meet rising demand. Moreover, it is not just investment in infrastructure that will make a difference to services in the north. The intercity express programme is a major investment in rolling stock that will bring benefits to regions throughout the country and faster journey times both north and south. The programme will create new jobs in the north and will be fully implemented by 2020. The first trains being built at Newton Aycliffe by Agility Trains will bring about more reliable services. That context is important and shows the huge investment that is taking place.

I will now respond directly to some of the questions that have been asked today. The issue with the TransPennine rolling stock relates to nine Class 170 trains, which comprise 18 rail vehicles—not a higher number. Those vehicles are equivalent to approximately 9% of the total fleet. The lease for those trains expires in 2015, which is the end of the current franchise.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

I will not give way, but I will come on to Bolton in a moment.

As is usual in the commercial rolling stock market, the lease was offered from that point. The opportunity was taken up by Chiltern Railways, which agreed a new lease earlier this year. Hon. Members asked when the Department for Transport knew about that. It knew in October 2013 and the Secretary of State saw a lease in February. The Department was aware of the lease, but we cannot unreasonably withhold consent for it, so it was given.

Today, I have heard from many hon. Members about their concerns and I can report that the Government are well aware of the problem and will ensure that a solution is found. Discussions are taking place between Chiltern Railways and First TransPennine Express to allow the ongoing TransPennine franchise to retain the trains until May 2015. That will allow more time for a solution to be found. Discussions are taking place about how many of those trains Chiltern will need in 2015, and an opportunity will exist for TransPennine to retain some of the units until March 2016.

Commercial negotiations are taking place between the Department, Chiltern and others in the industry that will allow medium and long-term solutions to be found. The Department has made it clear that it expects train operators and rolling stock companies ultimately to resolve the situation, but it is equally clear that several possible solutions exist. By working in partnership, the Department can reach a positive outcome that will continue to provide the level of service that passengers are currently experiencing.

Comments were made about section 54 notices. They are only a one-way guarantee. Each guarantees the lease price, not that the lessee will not move the vehicles anywhere else. In addition, it is not contractually secure to transfer leases from one tenant franchise to another.

Some amusing but untrue comments and jokes were aimed at the Prime Minister. Anyone who knows the railways knows that Chiltern does not serve Witney, which is served by First Great Western. Moreover, it is important to make a point of accuracy that no one else has mentioned. Notwithstanding the issues involving TPE and the solutions the Government are putting in place, TPE is also taking delivery of 10 new Desiro EMUs immediately.

In the same vein, much has been said about Bolton and what might happen following the December timetable change. I met hon. Members from Bolton last week, and I understand the difficulties faced by passengers on that route. I am confident that an agreement will shortly be reached whereby electric rolling stock will operate on some services between Liverpool and Manchester from December 2014 and enable diesel trains to be released to address the capacity issues in Bolton and at the Todmorden curve. I assure my hon. Friend Gordon Birtwistle and the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge that that is not a failure of strategic planning, but will see services running on that section of track for the first time in more than 40 years.

Much has been said about the Pacer trains that were introduced in the mid-1980s and have rightly received their fair share of attention. With the introduction of new rolling stock into the region, higher quality rolling stock will be released for use across the network. In the forthcoming franchise competitions for Northern and TransPennine Express, the Department does not intend to specify the type of trains to be used. However, hon. Members will have seen the Official Journal of the European Union notice that we set out for the East Coast franchise and we expect to ask bidders for the Northern franchise to put forward proposals for the removal of Pacers from the area. Furthermore, as hon. Members will have noticed, the new franchise competition gives as much weight to quality as to price aspects of bids, so we expect bidders to take that opportunity to reflect that in their bids and operating plans.

Some hon. Members have contended that the Government favour the south over the north. [Interruption.] The reality, of course, is a completely different picture. The Department is taking a whole-network approach, investing heavily in services across the country for the better of all passengers in this country.